7:00 PM EST, NBCS – Line: Cavaliers -3.5, Over/Under: 233.5
Two of the hottest teams in the league clash tonight in Northern Ohio, as the surging Cleveland Cavaliers play host to the Sacramento Kings from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. With the All-Star Break on the horizon, you would be hard-pressed to find a hotter team in the NBA than the Cavaliers (31-16, 3rd in Eastern Conference), who have now won thirteen of their last fourteen games. This has been a very fruitful stretch for Cleveland, who have ascended to third in the East despite the bulk of their success coming without the services of two prominent starters, (Sophomore forward) Evan Mobley and (veteran Guard) Darius Garland. The former, who was drafted second overall last season, missed twenty-two consecutive games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, while the latter was sidelined for nineteen straight contests due to a broken jaw. Together, they pack plenty of firepower on both ends of the hardwood, with Mobley averaging 15.9 points on 58.1% shooting from the field, with 10.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 blocks, while Garland offers 19.4 points on 47.1% shooting, along with 2.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.6 steals. However, his most attractive skill is his ability to alleviate (All-Star Guard) Donovan Mitchell of some his playmaking responsibilities, with the 27-year-old playing some of the best basketball of his career of late. During this current run, Mitchell (pictured below) has been on a HEATER, averaging 28.7 points on 49.1% shooting, with 5.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.8 steals. While there has been plenty of discourse over his future in Cleveland, it would be very difficult to envision the franchise trading away the 5-time All-Star before the upcoming Trade Deadline, particularly given the shifting landscape among the top of the East. With all that being said, it should be noted that this is a team that has been feasting upon the softer underbelly of their schedule; nine of those thirteen victories have come against opponents below .500, including the woeful Wizards (twice), Pistons, and Spurs, who have combined for a mere twenty-five wins thus far.
When we last saw these Cavs, they stormed into San Antonio and handed the Spurs a 117-101 defeat, thanks in large part to a 67-45 first half. The visitors shot a blistering 52.9% from the field and 7-of-19 from downtown (36.8%), while assisting on nineteen of their twenty-seven field goals in the first two periods. Conversely, (Head Coach) J.B. Bickerstaff’s troops relegated the hosts to a scant 30.5% shooting in the first half. When it was all said and done, Mitchell led the way with thirty-one points on 12-of-20 shooting (60.0%) along with eight rebounds and seven assists, but the biggest takeaway was the renewed alliance between big men, Jarrett Allen and the aforementioned Mobley. Not many teams employ a twin tower approach these days, but Cleveland have proven that these two can work together, as they combined for 54 points and 26 rebounds, netting 23-of-33 attempts from the field (69.7%). From a betting perspective, the Cavaliers are 25-20-2 against the spread this season, while covering ten of their thirteen victories during this recent stretch. Furthermore, they are 16-12-1 as a favorite thus far. When they last crossed paths with Kings, they were bested in a 120-132 affair in Northern California back in mid-November. Simply put, the visitors could do nothing to slow down the home side, who netted nearly 60% of their attempts overall. This one was relatively close at halftime, with the Cavs trailing 60-68, only to see them get blindsided in the third quarter in which they were outscored by thirteen points. When it was all said and done, Cleveland shot 49.5% from the field, including 16-of-35 from three (45.7%), with twenty-four assists opposed to eleven turnovers. Seven different players scored in double-figures, led by Mitchell (22 points), while veteran Swingman) Caris LeVert added twenty-one points off the bench. On the injury front, Bickerstaff & Co will be without (veteran Center) Tristan Thompson, who was a revelation in place of the injured Mobley, for the foreseeable future after he was flagged by the NBA’s anti-drug policy, leading to a 25-game suspension. Looking ahead, the Cavs will hit the road for a brief 3-game trip at Washington, Brooklyn, and Toronto, before returning to Cleveland for a showdown with 76ers, whom they just vaulted past in the East rankings.
Meanwhile, the Kings (29-19, 5th in Western Conference) may not be as hot as their opponent tonight, but they have been nonetheless impressive in what continues to be a deep West. Winners of six of their last seven games, (Head Coach) Mike Brown’s troops aren’t sneaking up on anyone this time around after making the playoffs for the first time in seventeen years. As was the case last season, Sacramento is once again one of the more potent offensive teams in the NBA ranking eighth in scoring (118.5), tenth in field goal percentage (48.1%), twelfth in three-point percentage (37.0%), and fifth in assists (28.7). At the forefront is (All-Star Point Guard) De’Aaron Fox, who is enjoying the most prolific campaign of his career, with personal-bests in points (27.5), three-point percentage (38.0%), and steals (1.8). Flanking him is (veteran Center) Domantas Sabonis and (Swingmen) Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray, who have all fit seamlessly within this up-tempo machine. Sabonis, who is averaging a whopping 13.0 rebounds per game, is a major reason as to why this team ranks first in the league in defensive rebounding percentage (78.1%), while the shooting of Huerter (36.4%) and Murray (36.5%) has created precious spacing for Fox (pictured below) to drive to the rim. Moving forward, the lingering question that has hung over this team throughout the season has been if they can get enough stops, for their defensive prowess simply hasn’t been where it needs to be in order to win a championship. After spending six years in Golden State as an assistant coach, Brown understands that you can marry a high-powered, fluid attack with an effective defensive approach, though implementing said approach has become quite the task. The Kings have shipped 117.5 points per game (20th Overall) on 48.4% shooting (21st Overall), including 39.0% from beyond the arc (39th Overall). Speaking of Brown, tonight’s trip to Cleveland will serve as a homecoming for the 53-year-old, who earned his first job as a Head Coach with the Cavs back in 2005. The Columbus native was charged with leading the franchise during LeBron James’ initial tenure with the team, posting a 305-187 record (.620) in five seasons, which included a trip to the 2007 NBA Finals and back-to-back 60-win campaigns before being fired after James left in the Summer of 2010. Though there is a sense that those teams were underappreciated due to successive collapses in the playoffs, Brown should be lauded for the job that he did, just as has for his work thus far in Sacramento, which resulted in Coach of the Year honors last season.
When we last saw these Kings, they bested the Bulls in a 123-115 affair in the Windy City over the weekend. This one was over by halftime, folks, as the visitors outscored the home side 71-52 through the first two period of play. Sacramento shot an ethereal62.2% from the field in the first half, including 9-of-18 from downtown (50.0%), assisting on all but four of their twenty-eight field goals along the way. Fox scored twenty-two of this forty-one points during that stretch, as Chicago had no answers for one of the fastest players in the NBA. When it was all said and done, Sabonis quietly posted a 14-point/13-rebound double-double, while (Backup Guard) Malik Monk totaled twenty-two points, five rebounds, and seven assists off the bench. The charity stripe also played a major factor in the outcome of this one, as Brown’s charges netted 24-of-29 free-throws (82.8%), ten of which came from Fox. From a betting perspective, the Kings are 26-22 against the spread thus far, while posting an 8-4 mark as an underdog. Furthermore, this is a team that has covered ten of their last twelve contests as a road dog of 0.5-4.5 points, which is once again the case tonight. It should also be noted that Sacramento has taken each of the last three meetings since Brown was hired, including their earlier tilt from November, in which they ran the Cavs out of Golden 1 Center in a 132-120 victory. It is awfully difficult to beat a team that shoots 59.0% from the field and 47.6% from beyond the arc, which should give you an idea as to how hot the hosts were in this affair. Four different players scored 20+ points for the Kings, with Fox totaling twenty-eight, Murray adding twenty-five, Sabonis putting up twenty-three, and Huerter chipping in with twenty points. The ball-movement was fluid for Sacramento, who passed the 30-assist threshold for the twentieth time, dishing out thirty-three dimes in comparison to committing just ten turnovers. Looking ahead, after the conclusion of this 7-game road trip, Brown & Co will return to Northern California for back-to-back home games before once again embarking on the road, for three consecutive clashes with their contemporaries out west, the Thunder, Suns, and Nuggets.